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"Guru and Antagonist"
The press on all in the present must be transformed: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys



In its current exhibition, the Deutsche Guggenheim brings together two heroes of contemporary art: all in the present must be transformed: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys reveals numerous surprising common denominators, but also differences between the political visionary from Germany and the American superstar artist. Yet the press is divided concerning the success of the exhibition concept of curator Nancy Spector from the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

In the Berliner Zeitung, Sebastian Preuss calls the "ambitious double show... a surprising way to revitalize Beuys" that presents the American Matthew Barney as "a kind of antagonist, an heir, and a confident partner in dialogue. The eye is attuned to important parallels and influences." Preuss discovers common elements in the sculptures and drawings of the two artists. "Like Beuys, Barney regards sculpture not as something static, but as part of an action. In contrast to Beuys' concept of the 'social sculpture', the former football star and model makes his own body the center of his work." "Beuys and Barney are especially close in the drawings. Both are masters of the delicate notation and surreal diagram, the shift from thin line, color smear, and collage element."

To Nicola Kuhn of the Tagesspiegel, it initially seems "pretty daring" to combine Beuys and Barney – "guru and antagonist" – in an exhibition. "Yet the things this unequal pair have in common soon come to mind: the performance character of their work, the relentless implementation of the whole body, the existential expression of self, the narrative element in their dramatic actions, the overriding mythological structure, the use of wax and Vaseline as material, the arrangements in vitrines as a sculptural form, the installations." As in the juxtaposition of Beuys and Rodin at Frankfurt's Schirn, "it's once again an American – Nancy Spector of New York's Guggenheim Museum in cooperation with Deutsche Bank – that daringly takes on Beuys, this time pairing him with a contemporary. She herself has termed it 'an experiment' currently on show at the Deutsche Guggenheim on Unter den Linden. Here, too, for nearly ten years now, two strong partners have entered into a fruitful relationship that has brought the city an added cultural value, to borrow Beuys' words." While Kuhn fears that the dual exhibition will not prove particularly popular with the public,

she nonetheless adds: "No matter. It's the will to knowledge that counts. And that is an honorable attitude in the art business, where the main factor is increasingly considered to be the quota." The exhibition concept, however, seems "purely additive" to her. But she finds the similarity of the drawings to be "remarkable", the juxtapositions of the two central installations "right on the mark." She sums it up thus: "in the encounter between Beuys and Rodin in Frankfurt, visitors could discover something new about the sculptural thinking of the two protagonists. But the Berlin combination remains strangely weak in terms of its statement. Despite it all, though, it was worth the try." In an interview with the taz, the architect, curator, and critic Thibaut de Ruyter joined in on this opinion. He called the exhibition "a good example for how you can show art today: an experimental concept instead of a huge spectacular machine (…) not a success, but an unusual attempt brimming with questions and possibilities."

"Is something growing together at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin that already belongs together? Or is it a case of opposites attracting?" This is the question Jens Hinrichsen poses on artnet, examining the work of the two artists for factors they have in common, most of which he finds in their drawings. "But when you look behind the works' surfaces and parallel working strategies, the philosophies that emerge are actually quite different." For Hinrichsen, Spector's "experiment" inspires visitors to a fresh view of both artists. "Seen from the Barney perspective, isn't there a lot of humor and color in Beuys' art? And doesn't the younger artist's work harbor far more holy seriousness and genuine pathos than is generally assumed?"

In any case, for Eva Lennier of the Welt , opposites attract. "One is a great healer, the other an awful hedonist. They seem connected purely through the painstaking formulation of their own individual mythologies. But if you search, and that's what Nancy Spector (…) did in an admirably precise way, there are amazing connections, such as the use of line in the nudes or the sleds that appear in Barney’s large-scale installation Chrysler Imperial of 2002 as glamorous, battered sliding companions." And for Lennier, as well, the combination with the works of the young American opens up a new perspective on the German art shaman. "In any case, what the show succeeds splendidly in doing is implementing Barney to add a new, exciting, and profoundly charged turn to the way we view Beuys."